(This post was originally published on the new LifeWay blog, Facts and Trends, on August 21, 2018. You can find it here.)
Whoever wrote the song “Easy Like Sunday Morning” has never been a pastor. The struggle is real.
My husband has been in ministry much too long for me to carry an ounce of naivety about the toll it takes. Brothers, you bear quite the load, but there are strong, sure, everlasting arms underneath yours. As heavy as your ministerial calling is, Jesus has another calling for you: rest.
Dollars to doughnuts you’re aware of Matthew 11’s invitation to breathe. But many pastors have recreated the ending:
“Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls… unless you’re a pastor.”
(Matthew 11:28-29, Revised Pastoral Version)
Why is it so easy to assume that Jesus’ offer of rest applies only to those in the pews, that it halts just short of the pulpit?
Unlike the Revised Pastoral Version, God didn’t exclude His under shepherds from this well of life. Rest is just as much for you as it is for everyone else (maybe even a bit more so since you’re responsible for setting the standard of resting well for your church). The gospel is our footing for stepping away and allowing the true Hero to do His work. Who else would be crazy enough to intentionally give up time in which the god of productivity could be served? This rest isn’t laziness—it’s worship, and it’s crucial.
Gospel rest for you might look like enjoying some physical downtime. According to a recent post by Thom Rainer, a third of the pastors interviewed regularly take fewer vacation days than their churches allow.* Brothers, your families (and your own hearts) need every break available. Jesus has promised to build His Church, and that includes you. Provide Him the whitespace to do in your life what you’d love to see Him do among your flock. The cross is big enough to cover your absence. Since Jesus is the great high priest, you don’t have to be.
You might need gospel rest that leans more toward preparing the message God has given you without any fear of negative feedback, a sort of mental rest. Have you ever felt devastated by that one person picking apart your sermon? Because of Jesus, no barbed comment or litany of condemnation has the power to demolish your identity. Christ is perfect in your place. Nothing you do can take away from His record. When this truth sinks in, all judgment rolls off. Faithful, fearless preaching becomes a happy offering to the Lord. Your mind softens to His guidance, the defenses drop, and you’re able to bless others as He’s blessed you: freely and joyfully.
Or maybe gospel rest for you is preaching your heart out with no hunger for praise, an emotional rest. This releasing the need to impress is the flip side of fearing negativity. Counting compliments is just as damaging to the soul as counting complaints—both center around the cancer of pride, whether wounded or bolstered. How deeply might your heart inhale knowing you greatly please the Lord week after week, and He couldn’t be prouder of you? This is the standing you’ve been given in Christ. The striving for public applause can cease as you humbly bring the Word with a confidence rooted in the Lord rather than in your preparation or delivery.
Perhaps the most crucial aspect of gospel rest for you is dropping the act of “he who has it all together” and being real about your struggles and triumphs, a spiritual rest. Your church doesn’t need you to be a perfect pastor; your church needs you to be a pastor who repents well. If that becomes the new rubric, imagine the kind of grace that would flow down the streets of your town. The gospel enables truthtelling because your identity doesn’t spring from how good you are but how good Jesus was on your behalf. Grateful honesty is one of the most profound resources of the gospel.
God has always been after your heart. Your pastoral work is meant to be a blessing to you as well as to your congregation. Of course it’s a lifestyle that keeps you needy and desperate. This state introduced you to the kingdom in the first place, and it’s the best way to continue growing. But your “job”—the people, the Word, the needs—it’s a good gift from a good Father who desires you to rest in Him. Sink into those everlasting arms. They hold the world, they hold the Church, and they hold you.